Health minister Greg Hunt has announced that the HIV prevention drug PrEP will be listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) from April 1 at a cost to the government of $180 million over the forward estimates.
Hunt said in a press release on Wednesday that tenofovir with emtricitabine, known as Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), will be available for up to 32,000 people in Australia every year who are at medium to high risk of HIV transmission. It will cost a maximum of $39.50 per month.
PrEP has been proven to be 99% effective in preventing HIV transmission, and the $180 million listing on the PBS will mean that people taking the drug will save over $2,000 per year. Concession patients will pay $6.40 per month.
People who take the PrEP tablet once a day will get a prescription once every three months. Each new prescription will be accompanied by a sexual health check by their GP.
Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations CEO Darryl O'Donnell said in a statement that the prevention of HIV transmission saved taxpayers in the long run.
"Investment in HIV prevention makes excellent financial sense," he said. "Each averted HIV transmission saves the Australian taxpayer $1,000,000 in lifetime costs."
Until now, Australians had mostly been accessing PrEP through state and territory trials of the drug. In New South Wales, for example, over 9,000 people are enrolled in the Expanded PrEP Implementation In Communities in NSW (EPIC-NSW) study.
AIDS Council of NSW (ACON) CEO Nicolas Parkhill said in a statement that ACON would soon be communicating with those in the trial about the changes to PrEP access as a result of the PBS listing, but said those in the trial should continue taking PrEP as usual.
Hunt said that PrEP would now be a "key component" in the government's commitment to fight HIV transmission in Australia.
"Access to PrEP will not only benefit gay and bisexual men but will also drive down rates of HIV in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, migrant communities and other population groups which have seen increased transmission rates over recent years," Hunt said in a statement.
A further $1.2 million would be spent over five years for education and awareness activities for people taking PrEP.
Nicolas Parkhill's name was misspelled in an earlier version of this post.